Flynn Files

Flynn Files

December 2016

I promise this will not be yet another post mortem on the recent presidential election. For one thing, I don't have the expertise to make grand interpretations (although the experts evidently have less expertise than we--and they--assumed.) For another, I am a life-long political Independent who seldom finds a welcoming home in either political party. And finally, this year's Thanksgiving holiday brought with it the gift of grateful deliverance from a relentlessly negative campaign that confirmed that politics and the media are seldom the best sources of values to inspire and guide us as members of a Franciscan university community.

Faculty and administrators who, like me, have spent their adult lives on college campuses cringe when pundits condescend to us as not living in the "real world." Well if this election campaign is the best the "real world" can offer, then spare us all!

So let me turn instead to some ways that college communities--and Alvernia in particular--can seek to model two of the high-minded challenges of our university's Mission Statement:  that our students and all of us be both "engaged citizens" and "ethical leaders with moral courage."

1.    Words Do Matter!  Contrary to what was claimed during the campaign, what we say actually does matter. Our words hold up a mirror to our integrity (or lack thereof).  We must say what we mean and mean what we say. Speaking honestly is one of the ways that we demonstrate respect for the people around us. And the fact that being dishonest is sometimes expedient, in politics or elsewhere, does not make it acceptable.

But HOW we speak matters too. Speaking respectfully to (and about) others is a precondition for living in an inclusive community. Do we show openness to the views of others even when we disagree profoundly?    Do we acknowledge, at least to ourselves, that we might sometimes be wrong or less than fully right? Do we assume that those with whom we disagree are fools or enemies? Or are they perhaps well-meaning folks with whom we have a legitimate difference of views or values?

Intentions matter too. When we speak carelessly or thoughtlessly and cause offense, do we intend to hurt or humiliate those with whom we disagree? Or are we simply wanting to express our opinions forcefully, and with conviction?  Are we seeking "common ground"--some shared beliefs--or do we assume there is little of value to learn from those different from us?
 
2.    "Knowledge Joined With Love":  Yes, that famous phrase of St. Bonaventure, the great Franciscan, also matters. It conveys a Franciscan philosophy of education. Knowledge should be conveyed with charity, in a supportive fashion. At two of my recent "Pizzas with the President," groups of first-year students expressed yet again their gratitude for our faculty's interest in them individually.

But this wonderful phrase also suggests how we should use the power that comes with our knowledge:  with compassion, even kindness.  Perhaps the learning that comes from a privileged education loses meaning if NOT linked to the heart as well as the head, to the emotions as well as the intellect. At a place like Alvernia, students and faculty alike cultivate habits of the heart and soul as well as habits of the mind.

3.    Alvernia's Core Value of Humility:  We trivialize this trait by equating it merely with a lack of arrogance or a refusal to gloat when we are triumphant. There are deeper lessons of humility when we fail or fall short or are proven wrong. And at a university filled with bright articulate people, we are called to exercise humility in our daily lives. As we express our views, positive we are right, are we really listening and being open to the views of others? Are we ready to engage with those different from us in background, experience, and points of view? Do we believe we can learn also from those beyond our campus, including those who are less formally educated?

4.  "One Nation under God with Liberty and Justice for All":   We all have been saying these words since first grade, right? Both concepts are essential:  Liberty and Justice. Individual liberty and freedom of expression are enshrined as the fortunate gifts of Americans. Pursuing what is best for each of us and our future is, of course, part of the point of college. But Individual responsibility matters too. Doing and saying what we want are not absolute rights to be practiced at the expense of others. Our "expression" must not unduly impinge on others by limiting their freedom or treating them unjustly. And as the late Dr. King prophetically proclaimed, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere!"

Our American "pledge" emphasizes "all" not just those with power or in the majority. It includes migrants and immigrants. The poor as well as the wealthy. Muslims and Jews as well as Christians. Franciscans believe community develops through relationships from a stance of "minoritas" ("being lesser,'" being a servant to all").

Inclusive community at Alvernia celebrates all of us with our diversity of backgrounds, faiths, and experiences. But we celebrate our unity too. Our shared commitment to come together in work and in play--in academic team projects and student club activities; in theater productions and athletic contests; in faculty-student research and student-led retreats--offers us countless opportunities to build and practice servant-leadership in our community. Our passion for service, whether on an Alternative Break in Appalachia or a tutoring assignment at Reading High—provides the opportunity for us to  reach beyond our comfort zone to put others first and express our deep caring for one another.

In a country so deeply divided, our campuses, like all communities, need what the Springsteen song celebrates as "the ties that bind."  With attention to what we say and how we speak; with the recognition that we have much to learn and gain by listening carefully (and lovingly) to others; and with a desire to build bridges that connect us instead of walls that divide us, may we seek to model "the real world" right here at Alvernia . . . as both “engaged citizens” and “ethical leaders with moral courage.”
 
Peace and All Good, Tom Flynn





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